Foods that Affect Mood: Mood-Boosters vs. Mood-Busters

May 4, 2021

by Kelly Aiello (

Are you in need of a mood boost? Many of us are. 

In fact, many people’s moods have been hijacked lately by the daily news and events happening worldwide. Additionally, many people forced into social isolation are experiencing greater levels of depression. Humans are social beings who require physical contact and social connectedness, making isolation a killer!

So there’s no question that we could all use a mood boost.

There’s also no question that what you eat can affect how you feel.

While we know bad moods can lead to bad eating habits; it’s also true that bad eating habits can lead to bad moods.

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How food impacts our mood

Food can impact our moods due to two main factors. 

First, nutrients are the building blocks for everything in our body, including mood-regulating “neurotransmitters.” 

Second, what we eat affects our blood sugar levels, which also impacts our mood. [1]

Many common healthy foods that have positive impacts on our mood do so by boosting serotonin and/or dopamine levels, improving blood flow to the brain, reducing brain inflammation, and diminishing the effects of oxidative stress. All of these can work to improve our mood.

But, there are also some junky foods that make us feel better sometimes, too. Yes, industry engineered processed food is designed to hit those “pleasure centers” to make us feel good. Once we see these foods as providing a temporary mood-boost that doesn’t serve our best health, we can ditch them in favour of healthier options that do the same thing.

Yes – there are healthier options that can help boost your mood!

Mental health and brain health are complex. So are the foods we eat, and the ways our bodies interact with those foods. Without going into detail about the exact mechanisms on how food and nutrition affect brain health, let’s take a look at a few ways that food impacts our mood. 

First, what we eat becomes the raw materials for our neurotransmitters. “Neurotransmitters” are biochemical messengers that allow our nerve cells to communicate (ever heard of serotonin?). They are important not just for thinking and memory, but also for mental health.

Second, what we eat affects our blood sugar. Having unstable blood sugar levels can contribute to mood swings and cravings for more salty, fatty, or sugary foods.

Let’s talk about mood-boosting and mood-busting foods.

Mood-boosting foods

Fist, some nutrient deficiencies manifest as mental health problems; this includes deficiencies in B-vitamins, vitamin D, and the mineral selenium. Such a nutritional imbalance is a biological factor in one’s mental health that is not often discussed – though it should be.

Nutrition plays a big part in our ability to regulate our psychological and emotional well-being. [2] Deficiencies in key nutrients can increase levels of stress and anxiety, as well as compromise optimal brain functioning. Specifically, studies have shown that deficiencies in vitamins B12, B6, and folate are associated with an increased risk (and incidence) of depression. [3]

So, getting enough nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants are key. These nutrients not only reduce inflammation but also fuel the biochemical reactions in our bodies – including those that create neurotransmitters. 

How do we get enough of these nutrients? You can start by making sure you’re eating a variety of nutrient-dense whole foods, especially fresh fruits and vegetables. In fact, studies show that people who eat the most fruits and vegetables tend to be the happiest.

Specifically, B vitamins can be found in egg yolks, dark green leafy veggies, fruits, legumes, nuts, seeds, quality meat, and whole grains. 

Selenium, an essential mineral, can be found in Brazil nuts, walnuts, cod, and poultry. 

Also, be sure you pay special attention to vitamin D (the sunshine vitamin), as it’s not naturally occurring in too many foods. It can be found in wild salmon, pastured egg yolks, and mushrooms, as well as in some food fortified with vitamin D. The problem with the latter is that most fortified foods do not serve our best health (like dairy for some people and fortified breakfast cereals). 

So try to add some of these nutritious foods containing B vitamins, selenium, and vitamin D to your diet each week.

Second, make sure you get enough protein. Protein is your body’s main supply of amino acids. Amino acids are very important for mood issues because they are the building blocks of neurotransmitters. Protein also helps to regulate blood sugar. I recommend eating protein with every meal; this includes dark green leafy vegetables, eggs, poultry, and quality meat.

Third, complex carbohydrates like sweet potatoes and quinoa are great, too. They allow better absorption of key amino acids like tryptophan. Tryptophan is used by your body to make serotonin (your “happy hormone”) and melatonin (your “sleepy” hormone). So, if you want to relax, try these with your evening meal.

Fourth, fish and other sources of omega-3 fatty acids (nuts, seeds, and algae) are also mood-boosting. Omega-3s are definitely “brain food” and may help to ease some symptoms by reducing neuroinflammation. [4]

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